The latest Roy Morgan also includes a poll of what people think is the single most important issue facing New Zealand.It makes informative reading. Jobs is the largest: 1 in 5 consider it the most important issue (we can safely assume it’s in the top 3 for most other people) and that’s doubled in a year. The Financial Crisis is second but slipping. Inequality and poverty are the biggest concern for 1 in 8, up from 4% a year ago. Combined, the economic categories are 57% of people’s top issue, up from 49% a year ago, and 43% the year before that.
That’s a little counter-intuitive considering the economy is growing (even if it isn’t creating jobs) but what it tells us is that one year ago, two years ago, the public was buying the Nats’ line that they are doing the best that they can on the economy and that the brighter future is still on its way but, now, the public is sick of waiting and seeing National’s economic failure for what it is.
And they have failed. They’ve failed terribly. New Zealand is losing jobs and has rising unemployment while countries like the US and Australia are experiencing falling unemployment. New Zealand has the second largest current account deficit in the developed world, and that ever-growing pile of debt is funded by selling our assets and taking on even more debt.
National is very, very vulnerable if their complete failure on the economy and jobs, in particular, is targeted because their reputation on the economy is all they have – it’s the only issue that people care about that they previously thought National was any good on, and everyone is starting to see that they’re failures. And it’s something that the Left can tell a very strong story about. Labour’s record is rising wages, unemployment under 4%, and government surpluses. In Davids P, C, and C2, Labour has a strong economic team. The Greens have an ambitious plan and both an articulate co-leader/economic spokesperson and a passionate co-leader/poverty spokesperson. Peters and Harawira have the ability to call a spade a spade.
The rising tide of dissatisfaction with the failures of Key and English tells me that the Opposition will be most successful when it puts forward bold policy and makes the economy a clear point of difference. There’s no point being an Opposition that only carps and suggests small changes – having being sucked in by that same play from Key, it won’t work coming from Labour. Instead, the Opposition parties have to boldly challenge the failed neoliberal orthodoxy.
And this they are doing. The asset sales referendum will be the first time that anyone bothered to specifically ask New Zealanders what they think about privatisation – just asking the question overturns 25 years of myth that the high priests of neoliberal economics know best. The manufacturing inquiry will bring together both labour and capital to say loud and clear that neoliberalism has failed manufacturing and is turning us into a poor commodity exporter. But Labour, in particular, has yet to decide where to really stand. Is it, in the Cunliffe mould, really rejecting neoliberalism, or is it just opportunistically seizing on National’s failures? Will the parties, for example, adopt full employment as a policy (I can hear Granny Herald squealing now but it hardly hurt us in the post-war years) and attack National on the cost of unemployment? To win, the economic alternative will have to be both bold and credible.
It’s also noteworthy what isn’t a major issue for people – rising prices, the environment, crime, the housing shortage, education, health are all very few people’s top issue. That’s not to say that they aren’t important and that the Left doesn’t need policies to address them. But this poll says they aren’t issues that are going to move votes – not unless a concerted, and unnecessary, effort is put in to make them major issues.. They aren’t where the firepower ought to be directed – they aren’t worth getting distracted by as political issues. The Left should stick to the economy, National’s greatest strengh and its greatest weakness.